Writing in the Toronto Star, Macdonald-Laurier Institute author Christian Leuprecht outlines some of the options available to Toronto’s new chief of police to contain the city’s ballooning policing costs.
Leuprecht is the author of the 2014 MLI paper “The Blue Line or the Bottom Line of Police Services in Canada”.
By Christian Leuprecht, Feb. 4, 2015
As Toronto searches for a new police chief, its budget committee grapples with the proposed 2015 police budget and the union negotiates a new contract, there has been no lack of weeping and gnashing of teeth about the costs of police services in Canada’s biggest city, particularly skyrocketing personnel costs.
Many of the drivers of these costs are beyond the remit of the police or city council, but there are a few important measures Toronto council and the new chief can take to make a real difference in modernizing policing and improving outcomes, while reining in costs:
- The city’s population is growing, but do we really need more police? As the city grows in population, its police force can shrink in relative size to more manageable levels. Currently, force strength is arbitrarily pegged to demographic growth, but population is a rudimentary measure of the need for police services. Would Toronto be any safer if it had twice the number of uniformed members or half as safe with half the numbers? Given the indeterminate relationship between crime and complement, let’s capitalize on the freed-up resources to deploy police in support of prevention.
- Trade multi-year police budget stability for predictable escalation by fixing the growth in the police budget in return for police chiefs agreeing to manage within those means. The federal government has frozen departmental operating budgets since 2009, for example, which forces departments to find internal efficiencies to pay for salary increases. Port Hope is a good example: Mayor Linda Thompson was instrumental in negotiating fixed-budget escalation in return for multi-year budget stability and greater flexibility in shift scheduling.
- Insist on a rigid divide between salaries and operations in the budget. Spending on operations and management is integral to achieving efficiencies, but runs the risk of being cannibalized to pay constantly escalating salaries.
- Improve fiscal accountability and transparency. The city should divide responsibilities, and the reporting structure to the Toronto Police Services Board, between the chief and the civilian chief administrative officer. As a uniformed member, putting the chief in charge of budget and policy is an inherent conflict of interest and detracts from what chiefs should be doing: managing operations and tactics. Technically, such a division of labour would require a change to Ontario’s Police Services Act; in practice, nothing stops a chief and a police services board from implementing a de facto change in the reporting structure.
- Let new recruits earn their stripes. Vancouver and Winnipeg have established systems whereby new recruits are initially given less responsibility at less pay before eventually becoming full-fledged uniformed members. Since those members who accumulate complaints against their conduct tend to do so in the first few years of their service, such an approach has the benefit of effectively extending the probationary period, thereby eliminating many of those whose disciplinary procedures end up consuming vast amounts of money while suspended with pay.
- Council needs to take greater ownership of policing. Council should be setting clear community safety priorities and the chief’s performance should be evaluated against his or her ability to develop an effective plan in co-operation with other agencies and to meet set objectives.
- Conduct a comprehensive strategic review. The chief, the police services board and the civilian chief administrative officer should implement a process to distinguish between what is essential, discretionary and low-return on investment, with the objective of reallocating resources to real priorities: reducing and diverting “calls for service” (to more appropriate social, health and other services, 211, 311, etc.), civilianizing some tasks, and privatizing others go a long way to optimizing the deployment of highly paid, qualified and experienced uniformed members.
- Innovate scheduling and incentives. Toronto police’s five-week cycle of eight- and 10-hour shifts with a fixed complement of officers is ill-suited to fairly predictable oscillations in demand for police services. Rather than running platoons with the same uniformed members, more flexible shifts and an opportunity to surge members during times of peak demand result in more diverse teams, which in turn have been shown to improve overall outcomes. And Toronto should be encouraging innovation by tying a greater portion of compensation to rewarding performance — something police forces already do when, for instance, they pay a detective sergeant a constable’s wage for specific tasks.
Ultimately, it is up to ratepayers through their elected council members, the police services board and the chief they ultimately appoint to take ownership of this vital issue. It is possible for Toronto to achieve better policing outcomes while containing costs.
Christian Leuprecht is associate dean and associate professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, and author of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute report “The Blue Line or the Bottom Line of Policing in Canada: Arresting runaway costs”.